Inside Tim Cook's Apple

Tim Cook – "I just want to build great products"

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"I just want to build great products … I think if we do that, then the other things [revenue and shareholder returns will] follow."

So said not Steve Jobs, but Tim Cook — the man Jobs hand-picked to replace him as CEO of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) — at the D10 conference, sponsored by The Wall Street Journal and AllThingsD.

While the two executives are clearly different in some ways — Jobs famously told biographer Walter Isaacson that Cook isn't a"product person" — there are striking similarities in the way they think about the company Jobs and Steve Wozniak co-founded more than three decades ago.

But don't take my word for it. Reporters Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg have interviewed both executives during the "D" conference: Cook recently, and Jobs in 2010. I've compared the transcripts. Read on for a closer look at what I found.

On how Apple is run
Great products are Apple's top priority. The process by which they are created is secondary.

Jobs: "We are organised like a start-up. We are the biggest start-up on the planet. No committees. The whole company meets once a week for three hours."

Cook: "Our North Star is to make the best product … There's not a policy or commandment that says, 'Thou shalt have One' [iPhone]."

On the necessity to discard the past when inventing for the future
Unlike Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), which has long stressed compatibility with older software and systems, Apple has never feared forcing users to upgrade.

Jobs: "This transformation [to a post-PC world] is going to make some people uneasy … because the PC has taken us a long ways. It's brilliant. We like to talk about the post-PC era, but when it really starts to happen, it's uncomfortable."

Cook: "In my view, the tablet and the PC are different. You can do things with the tablet if you are not encumbered by the legacy of the PC … Products are about trade-offs, and you have to make tough decisions. You have to choose."

On leapfrogging
Rarely the first mover in its markets, Apple has profited most by leapfrogging early entrants. Think of the iPhone introducing the finger-operated touchscreen as a standard handheld interface that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has mimicked for the Android OS.

Jobs: "You want to share your content that you bought among your various devices … You can't do that without a wire. We need to work harder on that. We need to do better. Anytime soon? We're working on it."

Apple introduced iCloud at last summer's Worldwide Developer Conference.

Cook: "We would look not just at this area [TV], but other areas, and ask, can we control the key technology? Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want? … Those are all the things we would ask about any new product category."

On China
Apple has taken heat for trouble with the working conditions at contract manufacturer Foxconn.

Jobs: "We're all over this. Foxconn is not a sweatshop. It's a factory, but they've got restaurants and movie theatres … We're trying to understand right now before we try to go in with a solution."

Cook: "Some people want to work a lot. They want to move and work for a year or two, and then move back to their village and bring back as much money as they can … We're micromanaging this [process]."

According to the AllThingsD transcript, Cook is referring to a program that monitors 700,000 manufacturing employees in China; he says Apple is now 95% compliant with regulations.

On the creative process
Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs reveals an Apple that stresses creative collaboration where the best ideas bubble to the surface.

Jobs: "What I do all day is meet with teams of people … We have wonderful arguments. The best ideas have to win, otherwise you don't have good people who stay."

Cook: "I spend my day working with teams on various products … It is my oxygen, that's how strongly I feel about it."

Apple 2.0, not much different from Apple 1.0
Surprised by the similarities? That's understandable. Recent headlines boast of the various ways Cook is changing the Mac maker. Fortune editor Adam Lashinsky has a feature story on this very subject. In it, he reveals a number of changes from the days when Jobs ran roughshod over a talented team in a grand quest to build the best products.

Reported differences include more MBAs, a friendlier atmosphere but more corporate feel, and a desire to settle for "good enough" rather than strive for "insanely great." In short: Lashinsky's Apple sounds more like Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), with creative geniuses replaced by spreadsheet jockeys in a horror tale eerily reminiscent of the 1950's classic Invasion of The Body Snatchers.

Cook struck a very different tone from the stage at D10: "You can only do so many things great, and you should cast aside everything else."

So far, he has. And I believe he will continue to. Lashinsky is a top reporter. I've no doubt he has good sources. But I also strongly doubt the story he's told is anything more than an abridged version of a single chapter in a long book that's still being written.

Cook may not be as much of a "product person" as his predecessor, but like Jobs, he appears singularly focused on creating great products. Investors will do just fine so long as that's true.

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A version of this article, written by Tim Beyers, originally appeared on

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